President Libby: Stetson ‘better than ever at 133 years old’

Stetson Chaplain Michael Fronk address the crowd at breakfast.

Stetson University has started renovating the Carlton Union Building, opened a new welcome center, added more apartments for students, and raised millions of dollars for student scholarships and the college’s campaign during the past year.

Those were some of the accomplishments highlighted by Stetson President Wendy B. Libby, Ph.D., at her annual President’s Champagne Breakfast on Saturday, Nov. 5, during Homecoming Weekend. The university also presented awards to distinguished alumni and faculty, and honored one of its volunteers.

Stetson Chaplain Michael Fronk address the crowd at breakfast.
Stetson Chaplain Michael Fronk addresses the crowd at the breakfast.

“I’m going to talk to you a bit this morning about why you should be extraordinarily proud of your university, which is looking better than ever at 133 years old,” Libby told more than 200 alumni, faculty, staff and others at the breakfast in the Vera Lea Rinker Native Plant Garden at the President’s Home.

Stetson enrolled a record 3,089 undergraduate students this semester and reached its goal a year early to grow enrollment from 2,100 to 3,000 students by 2016. The university hired more than 75 new faculty members in the past few years to accommodate the growth. And it purchased several apartments complexes – including ones now called Stetson Oaks and Stetson Palms – to provide more housing for students, she said.

“Growth allows us to invest and re-invest in making Stetson a better, stronger place where student learning is at the heart of everything we do,” Libby said. “There is hardly a feeling greater than helping a student fulfill his or her dreams.”

In September, the college opened the new Marshall and Vera Lea Rinker Welcome Center, a Green-Globe certified building for environmentally friendly design that was funded entirely by donors’ gifts.

Work also has begun to renovate and expand the CUB by 40 percent by 2018, putting in new dining space, more space for students and student organizations, and adding a wall of glass across the back, facing east onto the soon to be constructed east lawn and patio.

Stetson started a new initiative, Many Voices, One Stetson, this year in response to events around the country and the world, and sought to create an environment for open discussion of the complex and challenging issues involving diversity and inclusion. Many events have been organized on the topics of race, religion, social justice, sexuality, gender, community engagement and the environment.

The university is in the midst of a $150 million fundraising campaign, called Beyond Success – Significance, which has raised nearly $96 million to date, including approximately $22 million for scholarships, she said.

After Libby’s update, university officials gave out these awards:

  • The Distinguished Alumni Award for 2016 went to Leopoldo “Leo” Fernandez Pujals, from Nassau, Bahamas, who graduated from Stetson in 1973 and belonged to the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity. Mr. Fernandez began his career with Proctor and Gamble, then continued with Johnson & Johnson, before starting a pizza company, Telepizza. He later sold the pizza company and at present has controlling interest of Jazztel, a full telecommunication service provider.
  • The Distinguished Alumni Award for 2015 was presented Saturday because the recipient was unable to attend last year. Alethea Bonello graduated from Stetson in 1998 and now is pursuing her doctorate at Oxford Graduate School. She worked on the national staff for the NAACP and in 2012 received a commendation from the Georgia General Assembly for her work in civil rights.
  • The George and Mary Hood Award recognizes an exceptional commitment and contribution to Stetson and its core values, and was given to Luis Prats of St. Petersburg, a double Hatter who received his undergraduate degree in 1978 and his law degree in 1981. He has served as president of Stetson University’s Alumni Association and currently serves as chair of the Board of Trustees.
  • The Doyle E. Carlton Award is given to an alum or friend of the college for devotion to Christian higher education and extraordinary contributions in the area. This year, it was given to the chair of Stetson’s Religious Studies Department, Mitchell G. Reddish, Ph.D. Reddish is active in the New Covenant Baptist Church and in many community efforts, including the Stetson Blood Drive and Habitat for Humanity.
  • The Distinguished Service Award for dedicated service to the university was given to Harlan “Butch” Paul, a DeLand attorney who received his undergraduate degree from Stetson in 1976. He is involved in many civic and community groups, including the West Volusia YMCA Board. He has been an adjunct professor at Stetson in Business Law and was chair of the Stetson Board of Trustees.
  • Lastly, volunteer Susie Macon was recognized as an Honorary Alumna of Stetson University. She has been a major part of Stetson since 1967, including taking photographs at university events.

The breakfast was just one of the many events during Homecoming week. Students competed against each other at various competitions to raise $10,000 for charity, including storefront painting in downtown DeLand and Airwaves, a dance competition among student groups. The Greenfeather Grant went to Stewart-Marchman-Act Behavioral Healthcare this year to build an outdoor fitness trail at its DeLand facility.

The winners of Greenfeather were announced at the Homecoming Pep Rally on Friday night, Nov. 4. Pi Beta Phi and Delta Sigma Phi tied for first place. Also at the Pep Rally, a video was unveiled, entitled “What Do You Love About Stetson” — that featured students talking about why they love being a Hatter.